We interviewed Alayna Cole, founder of ‘Queerly Represent Me’ about the representation of the LGBT+ community in gaming
DtL: Hi Alayna! Could you tell us a bit about Queerly Represent Me?
Alayna: Queerly Represent Me is primarily a database of games that feature queer content. It is also a home for resources about queer representation in games, including data collected and articles written by me, and work provided by other researchers and writers. The database started as a private collection, designed to help me keep track of games I was researching in my academic and journalistic work about queer representation; during that process, I decided to make the resources public so that anyone interested in queer representation could make use of the research I was doing. We are currently in the middle of a major update that will introduce a number of useful new features, which will be released before the end of the year.
DtL: Why do you think something like QRM is important?
Alayna: QRM is important because representation is important. By collating and talking about the representation that does exist, as well as how it positively and negatively impacts the audiences who engage with it, we can help promote change. The easiest way to see more games with queer content is to clearly and rationally show developers what works well, what doesn’t work, and why. I think it also helps that the suggestions on QRM are curated by someone who is also a developer, game design lecturer, and journalist; it helps me to ensure the dreams of our audience are presented in a realistic way that is influenced by a range of perspectives.
“QRM is important because representation is important”
DtL: When you built the database, did you notice any reoccurring trends?
Alayna: I’ve found plenty of trends, and I actually spoke about them at the Digital Games Research Association Australia conference a couple of weeks ago. A summary of my conference presentation and a related paper should be available on QRM’s ‘resources’ page soon. Some of the key trends are a lack of asexual representation, diverse genders (transgender and non-binary genders), and diverse relationship structures (such as polyamory). Of the queer representation that does exist, a lot of it is focused on same-gender relationships, particularly between women. It is often presented to audiences in a way that is very focused on sexual behaviour, stereotypes, and what can be seen as attractive from the perspective of the ‘male gaze’. There aren’t many explicitly bisexual characters, with developers tending to instead focus on creating playersexual characters (who are attracted to the player no matter their gender).
DtL: Is the landscape of gaming changing? Has there been been an improvement in LGBT+ representation?
Alayna: There have definitely been more games with queer content released in recent years than there has been in the past. There are a couple of key reasons for this, I think: firstly, more easy-to-use game engines are allowing independent developers to produce games that reflect their own diverse experiences; and secondly, our insistence that queer (and other) representation is important is not going unheard by triple-A developers. The games industry itself is slowly becoming more diverse too in terms of who is working at these larger companies, and that’s making it harder for developers to simply lean on ‘default’ characters. It’s a slow process, but we’re moving forward.
“Our insistence that queer (and other) representation is important is not going unheard by triple-A developers”
DtL: Do you think a lack of representation/visibility in the media we consume has broader effects on society?
Alayna: A lack of diverse representation in media definitely has broader effects on society, just as increased representation does. Increasing representation has two key benefits: it helps those within minority groups establish a greater sense of identity and belonging; and it exposes those outside the represented groups to diverse perspectives, which can help them develop more empathy and understanding. Without the positive impacts that representation brings, we have members of minority groups who lack relatable role models and who have lower self-esteem, and we have less empathy in the world. Empathy is what we need if we are going to address issues such as prejudice, discrimination, bullying, and hate crime, which are harming individuals and communities.
“We have members of minority groups who lack relatable role models and who have lower self-esteem”
DtL: What is next for QRM?
Alayna: QRM just received a major update, adding a spreadsheet view to the database, as well as new information to help users, researchers, and press. This update took hundreds of (unpaid) hours to implement, so I’m taking a short break on adding new features for now. Next on the list is better integration of social media so that entries can be shared and discussed more easily. I also want to add more categories, so that games can be searched through and sorted by the identities that are being represented. I’m still adding new entries to the database all the time thanks to tips from the community, and am working on feature articles and academic papers that help spread this research further.